Health explains ‘smoking’ spending

2013-05-01 00:00

DID the KZN Health Department spend up to R2,4 million on a smoking room in the Natalia Building in Pietermaritzburg?

Democratic Alliance member of the KZN Legislature Mark Steele almost had smoke steaming out of his ears as he read the figure and the words “smoking room”.

Steele was looking through the department’s infrastructure projects report submitted to members of the health portfolio committee.

There he found the millions being spent in Natalia on upgrades to a records registry in the west wing and to a smoking room.

Steele dashed off a parliamentary question to Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo yesterday.

He asked exactly how much of the department’s budget had actually gone on providing its head office staff with a special space to smoke, a habit very much at odds with the department these days.

“We also want to know how the department can possibly justify this expenditure while patients attend overcrowded and understaffed clinics right here in Pietermaritzburg.”

Steele pointed to the busy Boom Street clinic, which is over 30 years old and in a dilapidated state. Directly opposite Natalia there is the understaffed former municipal clinic where people queue for hours, he added.

But Health head of department Dr Sibongile Zungu said the department was not promoting smoking, but rather adhering to labour laws.

Zungu said most of the money had gone to upgrading the records management area and a few thousand rand to sort out the smoking area. She was in Johannesburg and did not have the actual figures with her, but said these would be in the parliamentary response.

Zungu said the Auditor-General’s report last year picked on the department’s poor record management.

This had been prioritised, hence the upgrade of that specific area.

She added that the department could not discriminate against smokers by not employing them. According to legislation, employers had to provide space for smokers in the workplace. The renovations were to an existing smoking area to ensure it was properly enclosed and ventilated so that it did not affect other employees, Zungu said.


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